To gee myself up during the installation of Trope I bought a copy of The Doors of Perception. Perhaps it was my porous state of mind but nearly every line felt like a consoling arm around the shoulder with an accompanying voice telling me that a sense of wonderment was a good, albeit out of fashion, thing (I jest the voices were purely metaphorical).
“At least you aren’t lulled into a sense of false security by some merely human, merely fabricated order” The above is part of Aldus Huxley’s response to a recording of some madrigals by Gesauldo. Admittedly at the time he was “high” on the affects of mescaline recently ingested in the name of experimental science but there is something in these words that speaks to my heart. There are two choices when this revelation strikes you and one is to respond with the anti-energy of the Dadaist and the other is to embrace the cosmic order of the dislocated wonderist for “the totality is present in the broken pieces” as Huxley goes on to say. When I make work this fractured I do get a sense of the danger of disintegration or plain disinterest but hazardousness has its attractions. “Suppose you couldn’t get back out of the chaos…?” stammers Aldus at the end of his madrigal based hallucinogenic encounter.
This sense of artificial order is what puts me off a lot of visual art. The sense that artists and institutions once upon a time began adopting the language of the “verbalists” in order to court a more mainstream acceptance. This is no longer a conscious act and has become the “norm”. See my earlier blog on the Art of the Invisible for a mention of Art and Language’s skewering of this particular reflex. “Verbalists fear the non-verbal” Huxley states further down the road through the doors. This made me think that perhaps something is going on with the phrases in my paintings. The ones that crop up under all the pictures. They are on the cusp of being platitudes but their “not quite” state is what interests me. What I might be exploring is the ridiculous hubris of trying to capture the mystery of existence in a trite phrase. For is this not what all art and entertainment boils down to? The mystery of existence I mean. Of late (the last six hundred years) western art has sought to use death as the prism for viewing life. Art can, I hope, revel in life, which does of course include death but is far more wondrous than the Escher like configuration that Stephen Hawking recently compared it to. Escher's paradoxical mazes are still a conveniently fabricated order no matter how “weird” they appear. I really do THINK that painting is a relevant means of both highlighting and avoiding the pitfalls of the arbitrary order we impose on ourselves through verbalism but I am aware that one cannot force others to feel that way. I mean most people see paint on a canvas and think “uh oh traditional folk hobby past-time activity”. That’s how I used to think about Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère until I dived in and found he was thinking in paint. Really thinking not just creating a schematised analytical symbol of thinking. I don’t want to give up or abstain from words but increasingly I am somewhat baffled by the glamour of them. They mesmerise visitors to exhibitions who instead of staring in reverie cling onto the crampons of grammar scattered around. Words send hooks into our eyes and paintings slide off them. Glaze over. Unless someone recommends we look hard at something it is hard to do so of one’s own free will. My next set of paTropeintings will all be of the words “the more you look at this the better it gets”.
After calling the show Trope I suppose it only right that I should explore the piece called “Trope”. This mobile is an inadvertent anti-trope. A trope relies on visual information that the audience intuitively understands. This is a mobile consisting of a welder’s mask and a miniature statuette of the Statue of David on one arm and a Sky satellite dish with a crudely painted golem face of Rupert Murdoch on the other. With its three suspended elements the subject of this piece is straightforwardly “working out” connections so on that level it does work as a trope. However, what I had overlooked was that the meanings within this are not shared. At least not by one unified present day audience. The satellite dish is a piece of contemporary culture and some people might even recognise Rupert Murdoch’s face with the word Golem. So much so Trope. But the statuette and the welding mask. What of them? My over familiarity with the Statue of David led me to believe that this was a shared emblem. The story of its creation is as mythic as the Goliathan statue itself. The original statue is a true triumph of will resulting in a sublime translucent form hovering between mass and invisibility. It appears effortless whilst revealing the struggle of its creation through sheer awe-inspiring scale. In the mobile it hangs off the ground its weightiness now dissipated. Measuring and scale are a concern of the enlightenment – the drive towards human order. To experience the “all at onceness” of life is to be unconcerned with horizons and vanishing points. I should like to stress, however that there are certain meanings in the statue that are positively unambiguous. Michel Angelo manifests David as rational thinker on the brink of defeating Goliath through intellect. He is thinking about what he will do. Forward planning incarnate. A warning to the enemies of Florence the home of the new objectivity way before der Stijl came on the scene.
On an autobiographical level my family has such a statuette on the mantle piece although after thirty years and a succession of grand children it has been glued back together several times. As a child it was above a bizarre fake-fan-based flame-effect three bar heating devise and it proved a useful subject for drawing when I felt the need to graduate from pictures of chaotic battlefields to some real art. No one can compete with Michel Angelo’s depiction of the male torso. How to make the pencil describe tone invisibly? From another aspect the sculpture also became imbued with a sense of the uncanny. After school my father would drive us past a nearby country pile that had a near life size replica in the garden. How could something of such vast scale exist here in sleepy Sussex? I asked myself. The welding mask is a reference to Richard Shaver who published extensive stories of a subterranean race brought to his attention via conversations channelled to him through the electronic welding apparatus he operated. Satisfyingly the mask seems to evoke the humanoid nature of this species of degenerate robots or Deros as he called them and the welder himself. At the time in Nineteen Fifties America there was debate as to whether his stories were scientific theories or the deluded imaginings of a deranged artist. I think perhaps he rationalised the “all at onceness” of the creative process as an external force. Jung talked about seeing the psyche as a separate and legitimate entity. There is a school of thought that “delusions” such as Shavers are likely to manifest if this goes unrecognised. When making the images of the welders as both channeler (Shaver) and channelled (Dero) the welding flare quickly became a trope like devise. This we understand as a sign of enlightenment or conversely (more irrationally) even some kind of Saulian flash from which the visors darkened glass provides protection. This brings to mind the pain the slave leaving Plato’s cave experiences as his eyes struggle to adjust to new visions of reality. And so put simply in the Statue of David we have rational forward planning and in the welding mask we have the artist as conduit to the universe. Both of these are balanced against an over-riding invisible yet inescapable environment transmitted to the satellite dish. Weightlessness and dissolving of scale create the dialogue between rational quantification and the glimpse of life’s mystery that the artist seeks to uncover. Even more simply this piece is an emblem of the process of mounting the exhibition itself – the precarious balance of creating enough order to allow a reciprocal dialogue without dissipating the energy of dislocated wonder.